[The following contains spoilers.]
Michael Puzzo’s “The Dirty Talk” was first staged in New York in 2005 and it has now resurfaced at C on Chambers Street. Both of the performers, Nicholas Hammond and James Sindall, have trained in New York. Mitch (Sindall) is what remains after a long-term relationship has ended: a depleted, self-recriminating shell, now on the rebound and finding it all so difficult that it is like trying to lose his virginity again. He has been chatting to a girl on the internet and he finally invites her up to his father’s hunting cabin. He gets, at least in the underpants department, more than he bargained for. Lino (Hammond) is a half-sensitive half-slimeball adventurer, who wants companionship and also, rather hopelessly, to take it in the ass.
The entire play comprises of a single conversation in a darkened room. The rain sings its untiring song outside. The two characters are dwarfed by the massive, luxurious set; they briefly watch the television, but the bed and the computer remain unused. Mitch is the fall guy, the decent ordinary bloke who we are supposed to identify with, and he does the majority of the talking. Lino exudes empty cheerfulness like a slug trail. His behaviour in the few minutes that we are alone with him seems somehow furtive and compulsive. Is he authentically evil, or is this simply what sex is like in the twenty-first century? Should Mitch leave his girlfriend in the 1990s and embark on Lino’s role-playing fantasy quest?
“The Dirty Talk” is vulnerable to the criticism of being dated, since Mitch hunts for sex on the internet with implausible naivety, but there is no reason why this play could not be still set in 2005. A greater difficulty is the characterisation. Lino, with his dubious appearance of wisdom, seems to be following some secret, probably unrealistic plan which is never revealed and which never leads anywhere. Mitch is, despite his scolding, inclined to peacemaking and he is unlikely to do anything which tests Lino’s character. We are left with a mysterious, mildly sinister encounter and these men will still be lonely when the rain stops.